An article in today’s Beijing News states that a number of propaganda department heads have agreed to a plan to blitz social media with state-approved news and ideas. This will involve just over two million – 2.06 million to be precise – propaganda workers and paid commenters.
The deluge of truthspeak is specifically being aimed at Weibo, the two Twitter-style social networks (Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo) that have hundreds of millions of active users. The South China Morning Post first spotted this, and describes how the paid posts and comments are designed to guide “online discussions of sensitive topics in a ‘positive’ direction.”
Paid propaganda commenters are not a new phenomenon in China, where they are derogatorily called “50 cent” posters by many netizens, in a reference to the supposed payment per positive comment given to these carriers of the Party line. (And not because of their musical tastes). The report says that, of the two million figure, only 60,000 people are directly employed by the propaganda wings of various departments, while the rest involved in the campaign are “outside the system” – with means they’re 50 cent shills.
We can expect these commenters to be posting the State-approved line on touchy issues, and perhaps even actively commenting on Weibo posts to balance out an argument.
Sina Weibo is the most actively used of these real-time social sites in China, and is already strictly controlled by Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) and its moderators so that the official media censors don’t have to weigh in too much. We recently saw one such Weibo staffer take the extraordinary step of speaking publicly about the dilemma that the social site is in, describing its position as a “a human flesh shield” between censorious authorities and netizens who are pushing the limits of what can be said.